A Brief History of the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild
On Saturday, September 20, 1980, Dan Overly, then Executive Director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi (CGM), called an organizational meeting for all interested weavers at the newly established Chimneyville School of Crafts and Design on the Millsaps campus, in the hope of forming the “Chimneyville Chapter of the Handweavers Guild of America (HGA).” Dan had gathered a list of weavers among the CGM members and friends, and, with the help of the HGA state representative, had obtained a list of HGA members from Mississippi.
For about a year, the group functioned primarily with the help of Dan and the CGM staff, sending notices of meetings and offering programs led by group members, with no specific membership. But it had always been Dan’s intent that the group be self-sufficient, albeit under the hospices of the CGM. So, starting in the summer of 1981, directives (by-laws) were written, officers were elected, committees formed, and dues established; the first out of state instructor was also scheduled: Peg McNair from Seattle, WA taught two three-day workshops on designing and weaving with the Theo Morman technique.
The first line of the August 1981 newsletter, published after the August meeting, announced: “We are officially the Chimneyville Weavers Guild. The original membership was less than two dozen weavers.
By 1982 a logo had been chosen and a profile of the CWG was written to recruit new members. It said: “The purpose of the Guild is to foster weaving, to provide an environment of growth and sharing with its members, and to educate the public about the role of weaving today as well as throughout the history of Mississippi.” That goal was and still is, the guiding principle of the guild. Accomplishments listed in the profile include a group weaving which was showcased at HGA’s 1982 Convergence® to represent the state, various demonstrations, exhibits to display the work of members, and workshops to increase members’ knowledge. The first Sheep to Shawl was held at the Mississippi Craft Center on the Natchez Trace Parkway on April 3, 1982.
The rest of the 1980’s saw modest growth in membership as people learned to weave from classes offered to the CGM, but also some attrition of the original members. But the small group stayed active: a study group color study was organized in ’84, joint meetings were held with the Dyed in the Wool Weavers and Spinners, the Guild on the Mississippi coast, and Loom Crawl was initiated in ’85 (a progressive holiday luncheon in December); the guild met in different venues and participated in the Indian and Pioneer Festival at the Mississippi Craft Center; educational activities, demonstration and exhibitions continued.
Membership increased to close to forty in the 1990s; during this decade the guild started a library, began participating in Roc Day and hosted one in 1996; it also organized a traveling Gulf State exhibit for the Year of American Craft 1993, and hosted a Board meeting of HGA.
In April 1994, the guild changed its name to the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild (CWSG); to reflect the increase interest in spinning by its members. The same year it joined HGA’s Fiber Trust to continue its support of the national organization which was so central in its beginning. The CWSG incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation in Mississippi in preparation of hosting Southeast Fiber Forum in 1999, which was highly successful.
The new century saw the guild organizing yearly themed exhibits, which often travel around the state; it hosted Roc Day in 2002 and 2008; it began its own web site in 2008; and it entered in an agreement with the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi so it can hold its meeting and maintain its library at the Craft Center in exchange for hosting the yearly Sheep to Shawl, a yearly exhibit and participating in other demonstrations to help the GCM fulfill its mission of promoting Mississippi Crafts to the public.
The CWSG also continues to provide educational opportunities with members’ program and invited fiber artists. And it continues to participate in Roc Day maintaining its relationship with other fiber guilds in the Gulf states.